December 18, 2013
Habitat clearance and degradation are widespread throughout Madagascar. In the eastern rainforests, precious hardwoods (e.g. rosewood, ebony) are illegally extracted for their commercial value. However, in southern Madagascar, where ring-tailed lemurs persist, forest products are by-and-large used for local subsistence (i.e. charcoal, construction) and livestock forage. Forest regeneration time is long in these areas, given the arid conditions, which makes it difficult for animals to re-colonize extremely disturbed lands. Jacky Youssuff, a Professor at the University of Toliara, and his students have been documenting the effects of deforestation on ring-tailed lemurs and note both population declines and an increase in disease prevalence in lemurs in disturbed areas.
Ring-tailed lemur mom and infant. Photo by: Marni LaFleur.
However, Malagasy officials have recently been confiscating pet lemurs and handing the animals over to the Association Reniala to Mangily, a private reserve near Toliara and the first center of its kind in southern Madagascar.
"This is clearly a real issue," says Michelle Sauther from the University of Colorado Boulder, who has studied ring-tailed lemurs for over 25 years, "confiscating illegally held lemurs is the right thing to do and Reniala is to be commended for trying to help, but this problem will not go away."
Léa Giraud, the project manager at Reniala, notes that captive management is only a temporary solution for the confiscated animals.
"We want to make this conservation center a transitional home (for the lemurs)," says Girard, "where individuals can recover and then be transferred to appropriate parks." Yet, releasing these lemurs may not be possible as many lack the skills necessary to survive in the wild, and can potentially transmit zoonotic disease to existing populations.
Caged ring-tailed lemurs for the pet trade. Photo by: Dr. F. Riehl.
The future of the ring-tailed lemur is far from certain. Lisa Gould, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Victoria who has also been studying ring-tailed lemurs more than 25 years, is not hopeful. Since 2009 she has been working with populations of ring-tailed lemurs inhabiting small forest fragments and says "these tiny populations will most certainly become extinct in the near future."
Gould continues by saying, "Unfortunately, I expect ring-tailed lemurs will be extinct in the wild in the not too distant future, possibly even within the next decade."
Combating extreme poverty and increasing environmental awareness will be crucial components of conservation agendas, if ring-tailed lemurs are to survive in the wild, according to the IUCN Primate Specialist Group's Action Plan to save lemur species, including ring-tailed lemurs.
Charcoal for sale in Madagascar. Photo by: Marni LaFleur.
Deforestation in Madagascar. Photo by: Marni LaFleur.
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